You know what they say, the devil makes work for idle handsets.
It’s a given nowadays that any movie adapted from a Stephen King story has a 50/50 chance of being good or bad. Some might say that the misses now far outweigh the hits. I am inclined to be more generous. And I was pleased when I first heard that Cell was getting an adaptation. It was a novel that got me back into reading King after some time away, and it was a damn good one, mixing in his familiar homilies with a cracking yarn about people being zombiefied by a signal delivered through cell phones.
The story comes to screen courtesy of a screenplay co-written by King and Adam Alleca, with Tod Williams directing. Is the author able to translate his work from page to screen effectively? Can Williams do it justice? The short answer is yes, despite the many opinions to the contrary that you may have already heard.
Although things have changed as the source material is moulded into something more cinematic, Cell the film is certainly a match for the book in terms of structure. It starts off with a sequence of extended lunacy, after a brief scene introducing our hero (John Cusack) and his situation. And things don’t really calm down until the end credits roll. Cusack meets others, mainly Samuel L. Jackson and Isabelle Fuhrman, and they quickly grasp the basics of the situation (using a cell phone = a very bad idea) while trying to figure out the rest, such as how crowds communicate with one another and start acting like some kind of hive mind.
The fact that things don’t really calm down as the movie plays out doesn’t mean that every scene is non-stop action. There are quieter moments here and there, but they’re framed in a way that never allows you to forget about the serious threat constantly posed by the affected masses. And that, partnered up with a number of scenes that really emphasise the creepiness of the concept, is what helps this to be a solid horror movie.
The acting isn’t the best, although the younger cast members, mainly Furhman and Owen Teague, take the opportunity to do more than just go through the motions. Stacy Keach is also very good in a small role, with his entrance marking an interesting and disturbing sequence that stands out from the first half of the film. Cusack and Jackson are both fine, and the former actually does some unexpectedly great work in the final scenes, and their pairing works well for the majority of the plot.
It’s a shame that the third act sees Cusack moving away from the others, concerned as he is with the safety of his son, but this is more than made up for by an odd finale that I loved, and just as many will absolutely hate. It’s an intriguing, creepy, and inspired, visual punchline to a slick film that proves to be more unsettling than most mainstream horrors.
DIRECTOR: TOD WILLIAMS
WRITER: STEPHEN KING, ADAM ALLECA
STARS: JOHN CUSACK, SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ISABELLE FUHRMAN, ETHAN ANDREW CASTO, OWEN TEAGUE, STACY KEACH
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX